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What is normal when it comes to grief? And can it become a mental illness?

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Insight looks at whether it’s possible to put a timeframe around grief, whether it can be managed, whether anti-depressants help, and whether some cultures are better than others at dealing with this powerful emotional state.

Currently, grief reactions are not included in the mental illnesses handbook, DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), as it is considered a normal human response to bereavement. Some psychiatrists argue, however, that acute grief experienced for more than 12 months should be classified as a new psychiatric disorder in the next edition of the DSM in 2013.

As well as experts on both sides of the new proposal, Insight hears powerful personal stories of loss to find out how Australians of all backgrounds are managing their grief and what, if anything, is helping them get through.

Producer: Jane Worthington
Associate Producer: Hannah Meagher and Sarah Allely

Meet the Guests

  • Amanda Narvo

    Amanda Narvo lost her mum, 80, to cancer in January. People tell Amanda she’s handling the death too well, but she explains that she started grieving four years ago when Maureen was first diagnosed. Amanda says she and her family made the last week with Maureen fun. Amanda’s teenage daughter regularly watches the DVD of the funeral.

  • Dean Saunders

    Dean Saunders’ brother Richard Cyril Saunders was killed three years ago in a violent attack in Brisbane. Richard was the uncle of rugby league star Johnathan Thurston – and Dean feels that this link meant the family had unwanted public attention during their grieving time. The family gave Richard a traditional indigenous ceremony in outback Queensland, but Dean says he’s found it hard to move on because of the nature of his brother’s death.

  • Julia Bianco

    Julia Bianco lost her only child in January last year. Yasmina, 9, was hit by a train in Coledale, NSW. Although devastated, Julia and her husband Loris say they believe in destiny and have made an effort to move on with their life and be positive for Yasmina. Julia requested anti-depressants within a month of the death and says they gave her the strength to cope.

  • Ali Halkic

    Ali and his wife Dina still reserve a place at their dinner table for their son Allem, who committed suicide three years ago. They haven’t touched his bedroom since the day he died. Ali doesn’t think prolonged grief should be diagnosed as a psychiatric condition. He also refuses to take anti-depressants as he says he doesn’t want to “dilute” the emotion.

  • Gordon Parker

    Professor Gordon Parker is critical of what he sees as the increasing medicalisation of normal human behaviour and is against any new diagnosis to do with grief. Gordon founded the Black Dog Institute and this year published his autobiography. Gordon is based at the School of Psychiatry at UNSW.

  • Richard Bryant

    Professor Richard Bryant wants a new psychiatric disorder for bereavement which would apply when acute grieving goes on for longer than 12 months. He believes around 10-15 per cent of people who suffer a loss would potentially be affected by this new diagnosis. Richard sits on committees for both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases.

  • William and Caroline Verity

    William and Caroline Verity’s three year old daughter India was killed in 2003 when portable soccer goalposts fell on her at a sports day in New South Wales. A journalist with the Illawarra Mercury, William Verity dealt with his grief by writing a memoir of the days, weeks and months following India’s death called Bear Is Now Asleep. Meanwhile, Caroline set about getting change to legislation safety standards to prevent another child’s death. The grief affected the couple in different ways and it nearly cost them their marriage.


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